#47 The Chimes by Anna Smaill

25474336.jpgThe dystopian world in Anna Smaill’s The Chimes is set to music. In this indeterminate future London, where the written word is a lost code and metal is a precious commodity, Smaill’s characters walk lento and run presto, they sing directions, recognize strangers by their song, and they attune their ears daily to the Chimes, the beautiful music played across London that erases memories and keeps the inhabitants in line.

The novel follows young Simon, recently arrived in London after the death of his parents, with a bag of objectmemories and a message in the form of a song from his mother to a woman named Netty. As the days pass and the Chimes create gaps in his perception and fog his past, he must find a way to remember his purpose, deliver his message, and retain his memories if he is to survive the stifling by those in charge, a set of Oxford elites known as The Order.

After reading and loving V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series over the last few months, I’ve been on the hunt for entertaining, well-written fantasy, which is why I picked up The Chimes. While I liked the novel, I wished for less musical prose and more world-building; there were sections where I couldn’t envision the scene fully because the musicality of the writing muddled the plot and overshadowed the visual elements of the setting.

#42 Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

28449127The blurb from author Kevin Hearne on the back cover of Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures reads: “I don’t care what else you’ve seen in the bookstore today. Buy this book.”

YES.

Wake of Vultures is a thoroughly kick-ass, relentlessly awesome book. It’s the first in the Shadow series featuring one of the most original characters I’ve read, the half black/half “Injun” boyish young girl Nettie Lonesome. Nettie is tough as nails; she swaggers, tames wild ponies, slays vampires and other beasties, and braves the dangers of the old west where nothing is quite what it seems and everything seems like it’s out to get her.

Bowen writes with verve, creating a gritty, fantastical world that is as fierce as it is fun. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book in the series: Conspiracy of Ravens.

#40 The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

2549385325489134The Bear and the Nightingale, the debut novel from Katherine Arden, grabbed me from page one.

It reads like a fairy tale, complete with a strong-willed girl, a horrid stepmother, a fear-mongering priest, pagan magic, forest demons and water sprites. This book isn’t for everyone.

But if you read that description and are thinking “sounds freaking awesome,” you will be enchanted. Beautifully written and well-paced, it’s a darkly captivating story set in medieval Russia about a young girl, Vasya, born with the sight. She sees spirits in her house and stables and creepy demons in the snowy woods that surround her village.

When a new priest arrives in the village and turns the community against the old ways, against making offerings to the spirits, the spirits get angry. Crops fail, hunger spreads, and winter lasts longer and longer. Young Vasya is called upon by the spirits and demons to right these wrongs, to do so sacrifices must be made.

This is the first book in what is bound to be a great trilogy; the next will be The Girl in the Tower. Also, a book cover and package can really sell a book or do it harm. I almost didn’t buy this book because of the cover, it reads too dark and too juvenile. I prefer the bright and tapestry-like UK cover (left/top) to the American version (right/bottom). Thoughts?

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#38 Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

616830Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred has long been on my to-read list.

Powerful and terrifying, the story follows Dana, a young black woman in 1970’s Los Angeles, who is “called” back to antebellum Maryland when her white ancestor, Rufus, almost drowns. She saves him and is returned to her own time, to her life as a writer, to the home where she lives with her white husband. Over the course of the novel she is summoned again and again to save this ancestor; she forms complicated relationships with Rufus and his parents who own the plantation, and with their slaves. Even though she saves this young white “master,” Dana herself is treated like a slave, forced into physical labor, threatened and physically abused.

The passages that take place on the plantation are stronger than those set in 1970’s Los Angeles, the characters are more developed, the story both brutal and riveting. Because the narrative is told from the vantage of a free, modern, educated black woman, the horrors of slavery are exposed with a modern lens, the cruelty of the white owners and the powerlessness of the slaves are juxtaposed with Dana’s loving and seemingly equal bi-racial marriage. Overall, a fascinating, fast-paced read.

#32 A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

29939230As I turned page 623 to the last paragraphs of V.E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light, I’ll admit that I got sad in my heart… sad to say goodbye to this wonderful series (this is the third of a trilogy, I wrote about books 1 and 2 here and here) and these great characters, sad to leave this magical world.

As a bookseller I snobbishly ignored the whole fantasy/sci-fi section in favor of literary fiction (hey, I was in my 20’s, I thought fiction was more, I don’t know, important); In the past year I’ve been delving into the fantasy genre more and more. And here’s the thing about fantasy (based on the books I’ve read thus far): They’re FUN. Remember reading for fun? Not for school, or book club, not for what reading a certain book says about you as a reader. For fun, because the book makes you happy.

This series made me happy. Highly entertaining, delightfully transporting, these books are the perfect escape. I don’t know about you, but at the current moment, escaping into a book, into a world woven with magic and mystery, sounds pretty awesome just about all the damn time.

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#29 The Magicians by Lev Grossman

6101718I expected to fly through The Magicians. The premise sounded so entertaining: A smart but lonely teenager discovers he’s a magician when he stumbles upon, auditions, and gets accepted into magician school where there’s no shortage of teenage intrigue, sexual tension, and MAGIC. Sounds fun, right?

I didn’t love it. And I didn’t fly through it.

About halfway through the book I found myself wanting the experience of reading it to be over, to know the ending and be done with it. Partly because of the selfish cluelessness of the main character, I just couldn’t muster the interest to care about what happened to him and his magician friends in the end. Meh.

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#23 Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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When Richard Mayhew’s boring life in London gets turned inside out for helping a young girl named Door escape the two frightful men pursuing her, he is forced to go underground, literally, to survive. Following Door and her entourage through the tunnels and stations of the London underground, through secret doors and across haunted bridges, as she runs from those who hunt her and searches for the reason her family was murdered, Richard meets Rat-Speakers, murderers, fancy soul-sucking women, Black Friars, fallen angels, sewer-dwellers, and an assortment of other folks who live outside, underneath, beyond the realm of normal.

As the Neverwhere narrative twists and turns, and inverts on itself, I was continually charmed by the quirkiness of the characters, the path of the plot, and the layers of text and subtext that Gaiman weaves throughout. A thoroughly fun and entertaining book…

#18 A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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This is the second in V.E. Schwab’s series about Kell, a youngish magician living in one of 4 Londons, who has the unique ability to travel and carry messages between them all, and Deliliah Bard, kick-ass pick-pocket and uniquely fun heroine.

These books are transporting, plot-driven, and just plain fun to read. Book #3 is already on my bedside table, waiting…

#17 A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

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When I was chatting with my friend Noelle’s husband about fantasy/sci-fi books (they’re his jam), he recommended I read Ursula Le Guin. A few days later I went to the bookstore and picked up the first in Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea. I think that had I been a 15 year-old boy and not a woman of 38, I would have connected with this book more than I did; Le Guin wrote it for a teenage audience and it does read like a YA book.

It’s the story of a young magician who, in an attempt to best his rival at magician school, unleashes a fearsome shadow into the world. In an attempt to escape the shadow he has called forth, he hones his powers, fights dragons, escapes the dangerous clutches of a beautiful queen, and embarks on an epic sea journey to the end of the world.

Though I didn’t love A Wizard of Earthsea, I’m interested in reading more Le Guin so I’m putting the next two Earthsea books and The Left Hand of Darkness on my to-read list.